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Senate and House Nearer, But Still Far Apart

Sue Lincoln

Louisiana’s House and Senate worked through the weekend, drawing somewhat closer to resolving the budget shortfall, while philosophically they remain at odds.

As New Orleans Senator Troy Carter put it last night, “At some point, it becomes just a shell game. I think the people of Louisiana deserve better than that.”

Senate Finance discussed the House–approved budget cutting bill, HB 3, at length on Saturday.

“Unlike the House – that took no testimony from any agency – we took testimony from all those agencies to try to get answers to the very questions and concerns that you have,” Senate Finance chair told the full Senate Sunday.

They heard that $60-million the House “found” in savings from eliminating 1750 unfunded state employee positions didn’t really exist. They also heard form Correction Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, that the House-proposed cuts to his department would mean releasing over 1200 prisoners, as soon as next week.

And state Superintendent of Education John White told the Senate committee he didn’t have $7.5-million left in his budget, so cutting that amount – as the House asked – was impossible.

When Lafleur brought amendments to the full Senate Sunday, he apologized for the bill not matching the Governor’s request to use $119-million of the Rainy Day Fund.

“I’m presenting a bill that I think reflects the political reality,” LaFleur said, with a sigh. “We’re going to use $99 million of Rainy Day. This is not the most appetizing bill to bite into, but it looks like the one that will work for us, at least at this go-round.”

Generally, he got approval for the effort from both sides of the aisle.

Delhi Democrat Francis Thompson spoke in support, saying, “I didn’t come to Baton Rouge to tear down what has been built before I came. I wanted to add to it.”

Even Slidell Republican Sharon Hewitt gave her grudging blessing.

“I’m going to support this because I think this is really the only solution for where we are today.”

Yet while the Senate was agreeing to increase use of the Rainy Day Fund to $99-million from the $75-million the House had agreed upon, the House was working on passing their bill that used no Rainy Day money at all.  It narrowly failed, but remains alive for reconsideration tomorrow.

Where will it all end up?

“Based upon the House’s current behavior, at this point, we’re just kind of shooting in the dark,” New Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell observed.